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Gone With the Wind
Gone With the Wind/58
een spared. They sighed with relief at the welcome news and laughed, slapping their thighs when Scarlett told them of Sally's wild ride and how neatly she had cleared their hedge.
"She's a spunky girl," said Tony, "and it's rotten luck for her, Joe getting killed. You all got any chewing tobacco, Scarlett?"
"Nothing but rabbit tobacco. Pa smokes it in a corn cob."
"I haven't fallen that low yet," said Tony, "but I'll probably come to it."
"Is Dimity Munroe all right?" asked Alex, eagerly but a little embarrassed, and Scarlett recalled vaguely that he had been sweet on Sally's younger sister.
"Oh, yes. She's living with her aunt over in Fayetteville now. You know their house in Lovejoy was burned. And the rest of her folks are in Macon."
"What he means is -- has Dimity married some brave colonel in the Home Guard?" jeered Tony, and Alex turned furious eyes upon him.
"Of course, she isn't married," said Scarlett, amused.
"Maybe it would be better if she had," said Alex gloomily. "How the hell -- I beg your pardon, Scarlett. But how can a man ask a girl to marry him when his darkies are all freed and his, stock gone and he hasn't got a cent in his pockets?"
"You know that wouldn't bother Dimity," said Scarlett. She could afford to be loyal to Dimity and say nice things about her, for Alex Fontaine had never been one of her own beaux.
"Hell's afire -- Well, I beg your pardon again. I'll have to quit swearing or Grandma will sure tan my hide. I'm not asking any girl to marry a pauper. It mightn't bother her but it would bother me."
While Scarlett talked to the boys on the front porch, Melanie, Suellen and Carreen slipped silently into the house as soon as they heard the news of the surrender. After the boys had gone, cutting across the back fields of Tara toward home, Scarlett went inside and heard the girls sobbing together on the sofa in Ellen's little office. It was all over, the bright beautiful dream they had loved and hoped for, the Cause which had taken their friends, lovers, husbands and beggared their families. The Cause they had thought could never fall had fallen forever.
But for Scarlett, there were no tears. In the first moment when she heard the news she thought: Thank God! Now the cow won't be stolen. Now the horse is safe. Now we can take the silver out of the well and everybody can have a knife and fork. Now I won't be afraid to drive round the country looking for something to eat.
What a relief! Never again would she start in fear at the sound of hooves. Never again would she wake in the dark nights, holding her breath to listen, wondering if it were reality or only a dream that she heard in the yard the rattle of bits, the stamping of hooves and the harsh crying of orders by the Yankees. And, best of all, Tara was safe! Now her worst nightmare would never come true. Now she would never have to stand on the lawn and see smoke billowing from the beloved house and hear the roar of flames as the roof fell in.
Yes, the Cause was dead but war had always seemed foolish to her and peace was better. She had never stood starry eyed when the Stars and Bars ran up a pole or felt cold chills when "Dixie" sounded. She had not been sustained through privations, the sickening duties of nursing, the fears of the siege and the hunger of the last few months by the fanatic glow which made all these things endurable to others, if only the Cause prospered. It was all over and done with and she was not going to cry about it.
All over! The war which had seemed so endless, the war which, unbidden and unwanted, had cut her life in two, had made so clean a cleavage that it was difficult to remember those other care-tree days. She could look back, unmoved, at the pretty Scarlett with her fragile green morocco slippers and her flounces fragrant with lavender but she wondered if she could be that same girl. Scarlett O'Hara, with the County at her feet, a hundred slaves to do her bidding, the wealth of Tara like a wall behind her and doting parents anxious to grant any desire of her heart. Spoiled, careless Scarlett who had never known an ungratified wish except where Ashley was concerned.
Somewhere, on the long road that wound through those four years, the girl with her sachet and dancing slippers had slipped away and there was left a woman with sharp green eyes, who counted pennies and turned her hands to many menial tasks, a woman to whom nothing was left from the wreckage except the indestructible red earth on which she stood.
As she stood in the hall, listening to the girls sobbing, her mind was busy.
"We'll plant more cotton, lots more. I'll send Pork to Macon tomorrow to buy more seed. Now the Yankees won't burn it and our troops won't need it Good Lord! Cotton ought to go sky high this fall!"
She went into the little office and, disregarding the weeping girls on the sofa, seated herself at the secretary and picked up a quill to balance the cost of more cotton seed against her remaining cash.
"The war is over," she thought and suddenly she dropped the quill as a wild happiness flooded her. The war was over and Ashley -- if Ashley was alive he'd be coming home! She wondered if Melanie, in the midst of mourning for the lost Cause, had thought of this.
"Soon we'll get a letter -- no, not a letter. We can't get letters. But soon -- oh, somehow he'll let us know!"
But the days passed into weeks and there was no news from Ashley. The mail service in the South was uncertain and in the rural districts there was none at all. Occasionally a passing traveler from Atlanta brought a note from Aunt Pitty tearfully begging the girls to come back. But never news of Ashley.
After the surrender, an ever-present feud over the horse smoldered between Scarlett and Suellen. Now that there was no danger of Yankees, Suellen wanted to go calling on the neighbors. Lonely and missing the happy sociability of the old days, Suellen longed to visit friends, if for no other reason than to assure herself that the rest of the County was as bad off as Tara. But Scarlett was adamant. The horse was for work, to drag logs from the woods, to plow and for Pork to ride in search of food. On Sundays he had earned the right to graze in the pasture and rest. If Suellen wanted to go visiting she could go afoot.
Before the last year Suellen had never walked a hundred yards in her life and this prospect was anything but pleasing:' So she stayed at home and nagged and cried and said, once too often: "Oh, if only Mother was here!" At that, Scarlett gave her the long-promised slap, hitting her so hard it knocked her screaming to the bed and caused great consternation throughout the house. Thereafter, Suellen whined the less, at least in Scarlett's presence.
Scarlett spoke truthfully when she said she wanted the horse to rest but that was only half of the truth. The other half was that she had paid one round of calls on the County in the first month after the surrender and the sight of old friends and old plantations had shaken her courage more than she liked to admit.
The Fontaines had fared best of any, thanks to Sally's hard ride, but it was flourishing only by comparison with the desperate situation of the other neighbors. Grandma Fontaine had never completely recovered from the heart attack she had the day she led the others in beating out the flames and saving the house. Old Dr. Fontaine was convalescing slowly from an amputated arm. Alex and Tony were turning awkward hands to plows and hoe handles. They leaned over the fence rail to shake hands with Scarlett when she called and they laughed at her rickety wagon, their black eyes bitter, for they were laughing at themselves as well as her. She asked to buy seed corn from them and they promised it and fell to discussing farm problems. They had twelve chickens, two cows, five hogs and the mule they brought home from the war. One of the hogs had just died and they were worried about losing the others. At bearing such serious words about hogs from these ex-dandies who had never given life a more serious thought than which cravat was most fashionable, Scarlett laughed and this time her laugh was bitter too.
They had all made her welcome at Mimosa and had insisted on giving, not selling, her the seed corn. The quick Fontaine tempers flared when she put a greenback on the table and they flatly refused payment. Scarlett took the corn and privately slipped a dollar bill into Sally's hand. Sally looked like a different person from the girl who had greeted her eight months before when Scarlett first came home to Tara. Then she had been pale and sad but there had been a buoyancy about her. Now that buoyancy had gone, as if the surrender had taken all hope from her.
"Scarlett," she whispered as she clutched the bill, "what was the good of it all? Why did we ever fight? Oh, my poor Joe! Oh, my poor baby!"
"I don't know why we fought and I don't care," said Scarlett, "And I'm not interested. I never was interested. War is a man's business, not a woman's. All I'm interested in now is a good cotton crop. Now take this dollar and buy little Joe a dress. God knows, he needs it. I'm not going to rob you of your corn, for all Alex and Tony's politeness."
The boys followed her to the wagon and assisted her in, courtly for all their rags, gay with the volatile Fontaine gaiety, but with the picture of their destitution in her eyes, she shivered as she drove away from Mimosa. She was so tired of poverty and pinching. What a pleasure it would be to know people who were rich and not worried as to where the next meal was coming from!
Cade Calvert was at home at Pine Bloom and, as Scarlett came up the steps of the old house in which she had danced so often in happier days, she saw that death was in his face. He was emaciated and he coughed as he lay in an easy chair in the sunshine with a shawl across his knees, but his face lit up when he saw her. Just a little cold which had settled in his chest, he said, trying to rise to greet her. Got it from sleeping so much in the rain. But it would be gone soon and then he'd lend a hand in the work.
Cathleen Calvert, who came out of the house at the sound of voices, met Scarlett's eyes above her brother's head and in them Scarlett read knowledge and bitter despair. Cade might not know but Cathleen knew. Pine Bloom looked straggly and overgrown with weeds, seedling pines were beginning to show in the fields and the house was sagging and untidy. Cathleen was thin and taut.
The two of them, with their Yankee stepmother, their four little half-sisters, and Hilton, the Yankee overseer, remained in the silent, oddly echoing house. Scarlett had never liked Hilton any more than she liked their own overseer Jonas Wilkerson, and she liked him even less now, as he sauntered forward and greeted her like an equal. Formerly he had the same combination of servility and impertinence which Wilkerson possessed but now, with Mr. Calvert and Raiford dead in the war and Cade sick, he had dropped all servility. The second Mrs. Calvert had never known how to compel respect from negro servants and it was not to be expected that she could get it from a white man.
"Mr. Hilton has been so kind about staying with us through these difficult times," said Mrs. Calvert nervously, casting quick glances at her silent stepdaughter. "Very kind. I suppose you heard how he saved our house twice when Sherman was here. I'm sure I don't know how we would have managed without him, with no money and Cade--"
A flush went over Cade's white face and Cathleen's long lashes veiled her eyes as her mouth hardened. Scarlett knew their souls were writhing in helpless rage at being under obligations to their Yankee overseer. Mrs. Calvert seemed ready to weep. She had somehow made a blunder. She was always blundering. She just couldn't understand Southerners, for all that she had lived in Georgia twenty years. She never knew what not to say to her stepchildren and, no matter what she said or did, they were always so exquisitely polite to her. Silently she vowed she would go North to her own people, taking her children with her, and leave these puzzling stiff-necked strangers.
After these visits, Scarlett had no desire to see the Tarletons. Now that the four boys were gone, the house burned and the family cramped in the overseer's cottage, she could not bring herself to go. But Suellen and Carreen begged and Melanie said it would be unneighborly not to call and welcome Mr. Tarleton back from the war, so one Sunday they went.
This was the worst of all.
As they drove up by the ruins of the house, they saw Beatrice Tarleton dressed in a worn riding habit, a crop under her arm, sitting on the top rail of the fence about the paddock, staring moodily at nothing. Beside her perched the bow-legged little negro who had trained her horses and he looked as glum as his mistress. The paddock, once full of frolicking colts and placid brood mares, was empty now except for one mule, the mule Mr. Tarleton had ridden home from the surrender.
"I swear I don't know what to do with myself now that my darlings are gone," said Mrs. Tarleton, climbing down from the fence. A stranger might have thought she spoke of her four dead sons, but the girls from Tara knew her horses were in her mind. "All my beautiful horses dead. And oh, my poor Nellie! If I just had Nellie! And nothing but a damned mule on the place. A damned mule," she repeated, looking indignantly at the scrawny beast. "It's an insult to the memory of my blooded darlings to have a mule in their paddock. Mules are misbegotten, unnatural critters and it ought to be illegal to breed them."
Jim Tarleton, completely disguised by a bushy beard, came out of the overseer's house to welcome and kiss the girls and his four red-haired daughters in mended dresses streamed out behind him, tripping over the dozen black and tan hounds which ran barking to the door at the sound of strange voices. There was an air of studied and determined cheerfulness about the whole family which brought a colder chill to Scarlett's bones than the bitterness of Mimosa or the deathly brooding of Pine Bloom.
The Tarletons insisted that the girls stay for dinner, saying they had so few guests these days and wanted to hear all the news. Scarlett did not want to linger, for the atmosphere oppressed her, but Melanie and her two sisters were anxious for a longer visit, so the four stayed for dinner and ate sparingly of the side meat and dried peas which were served them.
There was laughter about the skimpy fare and the Tarleton girls giggled as they told of makeshifts for clothes, as if they were telling the most amusing of jokes. Melanie met them halfway, surprising Scarlett with her unexpected vivacity as she told of trials at Tara, making light of hardships. Scarlett could hardly speak at all. The room seemed so empty without the four great Tarleton boys, lounging and smoking and teasing. And if it seemed empty to her, what must it seem to the Tarletons who were offering a smiling front to their neighbors?
Carreen had said little during the meal but when it was over she slipped over to Mrs. Tarleton's side and whispered something. Mrs. Tarleton's face changed and the brittle smile left her lips as she put her arm around Carreen's slender waist. They left the room, and Scarlett, who felt she could not endure the house another minute, followed them. They went down the path through the garden and Scarlett saw they were going toward the burying ground. Well, she couldn't go back to the house now. It would seem too rude. But what on earth did Carreen mean dragging Mrs. Tarleton out to the boys' graves when Beatrice was trying so hard to be brave?
There were two new marble markers in the brick-enclosed lot under the funereal cedars-- so new that no rain had splashed them with red dust.
"We got them last week," said Mrs. Tarleton proudly. "Mr. Tarleton went to Macon and brought them home in the wagon."
Tombstones! And what they must have cost! Suddenly Scarlett did not feel as sorry for the Tarletons as she had at first. Anybody who would waste precious money on tombstones when food was so dear, so almost unattainable, didn't deserve sympathy. And there were several lines carved on each of the stones. The more carving, the more money. The whole family must be crazy! And it had cost money, too, to bring the three boys' bodies home. They had never found Boyd or any trace of him.
Between the graves of Brent and Stuart was a stone which read: "They were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided."
On the other stone were the names of Boyd and Tom with something in Latin which began "Dulce et--" but it meant nothing to Scarlett who had managed to evade Latin at the Fayetteville Academy.
All that money for tombstones! Why, they were fools! She felt as indignant as if her own money had been squandered.
Carreen's eyes were shining oddly.
"I think it's lovely," she whispered pointing to the first stone.
Carreen would think it lovely. Anything sentimental stirred her.
"Yes," said Mrs. Tarleton and her voice was soft, "we thought it very fitting-- they died almost at the same time. Stuart first and then Brent who caught up the flag he dropped."
As the girls drove back to Tara, Scarlett was silent for a while, thinking of what she had seen in the various homes, remembering against her will the County in its glory, with visitors at all the big houses and money plentiful, negroes crowding the quarters and the well-tended fields glorious with cotton.
"In another year, there'll be little pines all over these fields," she thought and looking toward the encircling forest she shuddered. "Without the darkies, it will be all we can do to keep body and soul together. Nobody can run a big plantation without the darkies, and lots of the fields won't be cultivated at all and the woods will take over the fields again. Nobody can plant much cotton, and what will we do then? What'll become of country folks? Town folks can manage somehow. They've always managed. But we country folks will go back a hundred years like the pioneers who had little cabins and just scratched a few acres-- and barely existed.
"No--" she thought grimly, "Tara isn't going to be like that. Not even if I have to plow myself. This whole section, this whole state can go back to woods if it wants to, but I won't let Tara go. And I don't intend to waste my money on tombstones or my time crying about the war. We can make out somehow. I know we could make out somehow if the men weren't all dead. Losing the darkies isn't the worst part about this. It's the loss of the men, the young men." She thought again of the four Tarletons and Joe Fontaine, of Raiford Calvert and the Munroe brothers and all the boys from Fayetteville and Jonesboro whose names she had read on the casualty lists. "If there were just enough men left, we could manage somehow but --"
Another thought struck her-- suppose she wanted to marry again. Of course, she didn't want to marry again. Once was certainly enough. Besides, the only man she'd ever wanted was Ashley and he was married if he was still living. But suppose she would want to marry. Who would there be to marry her? The thought was appalli